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Slovenian Pronunciation Print

Contemporary Standard Slovenian has two phonological systems which differ in respect of prosodic phenomena: a tonemic system and a non-tonemic system. The tonemic system has in fact been lost in most Slovenian dialects and is now considered archaic. It is not considered obligatory in the standard norm. Non-tonemic system is the widely accepted norm and is the system currently used in dictionaries and prescriptive grammars of the language as well as in schools and universities. In Slovenian the majority of words have just one stressed syllable. Only certain prefixed words and some compounds have two stressed syllables. The only words that are unstressed are proclitics and enclitics. Stress will be indicated in all Slovenian words in this grammar. One feature of the modern Slovenian language is that many words allow alternative stresses.

Alphabet and phonemes

The Slovenian alphabet (abeceda) is a modification of the Roman alphabet, as adapted from Czech in the 19th century.

LETTER-SOUND CORRESPONDENCES

Letter IPA Example notes
A, a ɑ sadje [ˈsaːdiɛ] ‘fruit’ NOM/ACC-SG,
kraj [kˈɾɑ̀j] ‘region’
B, b b beseda [bɛˈsèːda] ‘word’,
oba [ɔˈbɑ̀ː] ‘both’
C, c ʦ cena [ˈʦéːna] ‘price’,
lice [líːcɛ] ‘cheek’
ʦ as in bits
Č, č ʧ čelo [ˈʧɛ́ːlɔ] ‘forehead’,
peče [ˈpɛ́ːʧɛ] ‘bakes’ 3-SG
ch as in church
D, d d dim [ˈdim] ‘smoke’,
zmeden [zˈmèːdɛn] ‘confused’ NOM-SGM
E, e e, ɛ, ə pesek [ˈpéːsək] ‘sand’,
žena [ˈʒ ɛ́ːnɑ] ‘wife’,
steza [sˈtə́zɑ] ‘path’
The orthography does not distinguish the phonemic contrasts /e/ ≠ /ɛ/ ≠ /ə/, which occur fully only in stressed syllables. The contrast between /e/ and /ɛ/ is neutralized as [ɛ] in short-stressed and unstressed syllables. Consequently, only [ɛ] and [ə] occur in unstressed syllables.
F, f f fara [ˈfáːra] ‘parish’,
defekt [deˈfèːkt] ‘defect’ (noun)
G, g g
H, h x ch as in loch
I, i i i as in machine
J, j j y as in young or boy
K, k k
L, l l, w rekel [ˈɾːkəw] ‘(he) said’ In syllable-final position l is generally realized as [w] or [u̥], though in some morphological categories and individual words syllable-final l is realized as [l], e.g., stolca [u̯c] or [lc] ‘of a small chair’, stopalka [lk] or [wk] ‘pedal’. In nouns that take a Ø ending in the GEN-PL with stems ending in –l, the realization is [l]: stopal [l] ‘of feet’. In borrowed words, syllable-final l is realized as [l]: ideal ‘an ideal’
M, m m
N, n n
O, o o, ɔ golob [gɔˈlòːp] ‘pigeon’,
nosimo [nˈóːsimɔ] ‘(we) carry’,
potok [ˈpɔ́ːtɔk] ‘brook’, otrok [ɔtˈɾɔk] ‘child’
The orthography does not distinguish the phonemic contrasts /o/ ≠ /ɔ/, which occur fully only in stressed syllables. The contrast between /o/ and /ɔ/ is neutralized as [ɔ] in short-stressed and unstressed syllables.
P, p p
R, r r, ɾ pere [ˈpɛ́ɾɛ] ‘washes’ 3-SG,
red [ˈɾeːt] ‘order, row’, prt [ˈpə̀ɾt] ‘tablecloth’,
[ˈə̀ɾʃ] ‘rye’
When r appears in syllabic position, i.e., between consonants, it is realized as ə + ɾ.
S, s s
Š, š ʃ sh as in fish
T, t t
U, u u suša [ˈsuu ːʃɑ] ‘drought’,
kruh [k ˈɾx] ‘bread’
V, v v, u, w, w̥ val [ˈvɑ̀ːl] ‘wave’,
vzeti [uˈzéːti] ~ [w ˈzéːti] ‘to take’,
vse ‘everything’ [uˈsɛ̀] ~ [w̥ˈsɛ̀]
V is pronounced as a labiodental fricative [v] only before a vowel. Otherwise it is pronounced as a non-syllabic u [u̯], optionally with syllabicity [u]. Before voiceless consonants it may be realized as a voiceless glide [w̥].
Z, z z
Ž, ž ʒ s as in measure

 

Several other letters occur in published texts in order to render direct citation of foreign words (those not felt to be in everyday use and thus not nativized), primarily modified Latin letters in European languages familiar to educated Slovenians, e.g., Ç, ç; Ć, ć; Đ, đ; Q, q; W, w; X, x; Y, y; Ś, ś; Ź, ź; Ż, ż. Though written, these are pronounced like the most similar Slovenian phoneme, e.g., Đinđić is pronounced though written Džindžič, Eqrem Çabej as though written Ekrem Čabej, Kwaśniewski as though written Kvašnjevski, Wałęsa as though written Valensa or Vavensa, Washington as Vašington.

Ü, ü occurs also in native words to render dialect pronunciation, e.g., Danilo Türk (Slovenian President). This sound is characteristic of some eastern and southern dialects of Slovenian.

Vowel reduction

The colloquial language spoken in Ljubljana and the central dialects of Slovenian differ in pronunciation in several ways from the standard language, but arguably the feature that structurally affects the structure of most words, both in their stem structure and inflectional endings, is vowel reduction, i.e., the reduction to schwa of short stressed and unstressed i, u (and sometimes other vowels) and their elimination in final syllables.

In texts imitating colloquial speech with vowel reduction, schwa («) is sometimes rendered by an apostrophe, especially when the schwa represents the reduction of a short high close vowel, usually i or u, e.g., n’č [ˈnə̀ʧ] for standard nič [ˈnìʧ] ‘nothing’, za crk’nt [zɑ ˈʦə́ɾkənt] for standard za crkniti [zɑ ˈʦə́ɾkniti] ‘you could just die (i.e., from shock, from laughter)’. Sometimes no mark at all is written: nč, crknt.

Unstressed i and u have been restored in the vowel system of Ljubljana colloquial speech as a result of the monophthongization of unstressed sequences of V + j and V + [u̯], respectively, e.g., tȗki ‘here’ (standard tȗkaj), Mîhu ‘Miha’s (standard Mîhov), cérku ‘church’ (standard cérkev).

Consonant inventory

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatoalveolar Velar
Stops voiceless p t k
voiced b d g
Affricates voiceless ʦ ʧ
voiced ʤ
Fricatives voiceless f s ʃ x
voiced v z ʒ
Nasals m n
Lateral l
Trill/tap r
Glides j

Vowel inventory

Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ə ɔ
Open ɑ

Word prosody

All words in Slovenian that are not clitics have at least one prominent syllable. Prominence is lexically determined, i.e., it is not predictable, so it is a feature of the word which must be learned along with the segmental sequence and the meaning. Prominence is marked in at least two broadly different ways depending on which dialect area a Slovenian speaker comes from. Speakers from Ljubljana, the Upper and Lower Carniolan dialects, or the Carinthian dialect may have a pitch-accent (“tonemic”) system. Speakers from other areas generally have a dynamic stress (“stress”) system. In both the tonemic and stress systems, vestiges of a quantity opposition in stressed syllables may still be realized in many speakers’ systems. With the exception of some peripheral dialects, distinctions between long and short stressed syllables occur in the final or only syllable.

Word-prosodic features are not normally marked in Slovenian orthography except in rare instances where a stress distinction resolves an ambiguity (e.g., tȇma ‘theme, topic’, temà ‘darkness’; vȃs ‘village’, vàs ‘you’ 2-PL), though these are usually easily differentiated by context. Prominence is traditionally marked in two ways that can be very confusing because of the overlap in the meaning of the diacritic marks. The tonemic system requires three signs: the acute mark (á) signifies a long, lowered or “rising” pitch; the circumflex (ȃ) marks a long, raised or “falling” pitch; the grave (à) marks a short, raised or “falling” pitch. The latter is not contrasted with a short, lowered/rising pitch, so the fact that the short stress matches the pitch properties of the raised/falling pitch is a mere phonetic detail. In addition, many modern Slovenian grammars distinguish the close-mid vowels, which occur only in long-stressed syllables, by adding a dot underneath the letter (ẹ̣, o). These contrast with corresponding open-mid vowels, which are left plain (e, o). Learners who wish to approximate the pitch-accent system may try to lower the pitch in rising pitch syllables about a minor third from surrounding unstressed syllables or raise a minor third for the falling pitch. Imitating a native speaker who uses the tonemic system is of course the only way to get the pitch-accent system right. The process can be frustrating, as the distribution of tonemes and their phonetic realization differ, sometimes radically, from one locality to another. With this caveat in mind, the reader should realize that the indications of pitch-accent below will not always be correct for some native speakers. Readers are referred to the SSKJ for an authoritative source for the distribution of stress and pitch placement, which is based on a canvass of native informants. Most foreign learners opt for the simpler stress system, which is in any case used by native speakers from many dialect areas, primarily on the peripheries of the Slovenian speech territory, though some individuals also speak this way even in localities where pitch-accent is prevalent.

In the stress-only system the marks are used differently: the acute (á) marks a long-stressed syllable. It also marks the close-mid vowels (é, ó), which occur only under stress; to account for the open-mid vowels, the carat is used (ȇ, ȏ). Short stress is marked by the grave sign (à) as in the tonemic system.

In the present grammar, wherever stress is marked on an orthographic form it is intended to represent the tonemic system. (IPA conventions are used whenever the phonetic representation, signaled by square brackets [ ], is specified. Stress is marked only in the sections of the grammar that concern the phonological, morphophonemic, and morphological structures of words—the stress is not marked in the sections on units of analysis larger than the word.) Normally the stress is marked only insofar as word structure per se is discussed, thus, editorial stress marking is not included in usage examples. Readers who wish to convert these marks to the stress system need only ignore the marks for the lowered vs. raised pitch. Moreover, since the stressed open-mid vowels are marked (i.e., less frequent) in the system, these will be marked with a subscript leftward hook (vré̡̡me ‘weather’, pótok ‘brook’, Amȇ̡rika ‘America’, preprȏ̡ščina ‘naïveté’); the contrasting close-mid vowels, which occur only under long stress but are more frequent than the corresponding low-mid stressed vowels, are not specially marked (zvézda ‘star’, pót ‘path, road’). Because this distinction in mid-vowels does not occur in short-stressed syllables, which are low-mid by default, no vowel-quality diacritic is necessary in short-stressed syllables.

Representation Tonemic system Stress system
bráti ‘read’ INF [bˈɾɑ́ːti] [bˈɾɑːti]
brȃt ‘go read’ SUP [bˈɾɑ̀ːt] [bˈɾɑːt]
bràt ‘brother’ [bˈɾɑ̀t] [bˈɾɑt]
vré̡me ‘weather’ [wˈɾɛ́ːmɛ] [wˈɾɛːmɛ]
zvézda ‘star’ [zˈvéːzdɑ] [zˈveːzdɑ]
kmèt ‘farmer’, ‘pawn’ [kˈmɛ̀t] [kˈmɛt]
pó̡tok ‘brook’ [ˈpɔ́ːtɔk] [ˈpɔːtɔk]
pót ‘path, road’ [ˈpoːt] [ˈpoːt]
snòp ‘sheaf’ [sˈnɔ̀p] [sˈnɔp]

 

In instances where the toneme may be realized variably according to authoritative sources (in particular SSKJ), a straight bar is used here. Note that this variability occurs only in long-stressed vowels and, in the case of mid-vowels, only those which are high-mid, thus katēri ‘which one’ is read in the tonemic system as either [kɑˈtéːri] or [kɑˈtèːri] or in the stress system as [kɑˈteːri].

Finally, it should be noted that the diacritic marks are not used in everyday orthography except in those instances where stress disambiguates homographs, e.g., vžgi zvezdá svetilke (AG: 76) ‘light the lamps of the stars’, where zvezda must be read as GEN-PL [zvɛzˈdɑ́ː], rather than NOM-SG [zˈvéːzdɑ] (in the latter case the fragment, albeit with defective punctuation, would be parsed ‘light, oh, star, the lamps’).

Phonological rules

Slovenian spelling is largely phonemic and morphophonemic, thus most of the information for converting spelling into speech in terms of segments and word prosody can be gleaned from the remarks on inventory, given above, though in some cases a letter can stand for two different phonemes (cf. brȃlec [ləʦ] ‘reader’ NOM-SG vs. brȃlca [u̯ʦ] ‘reader’ ACC/GEN-SG). The major instances of substitution are sketched below. Stress placement, vowel quality in mid-vowels, quantity and pitch values in stressed syllables are not rendered in orthography nor are they predictable, thus this information must be learned by non-natives either through observation or consulting pronunciation guides.

Aside from subtle phonetic variation, most of the vowels are pronounced (normatively) the same in both stressed and unstressed syllables (though some of the striking differences in colloquial speech have been noted in the comments to inventory, above). The principal exception to this statement is that the distinction between high-mid and low-mid vowels are neutralized in favor of low-mid pronunciation in unstressed syllables, e.g., lȇp [ˈlːp] ‘pretty’ M-SG-INDEF vs. lepȏ [lɛˈpː] ‘prettily, nicely’; hvaléžnost [hvɑˈlee ːʒnɔst] ‘gratitude’ vs. dolžnȏst [dɔu̯ʒnoo ːst] ‘obligation’.

The distinction between high-mid and low-mid vowels is neutralized in favor of low-mid in the sequences /ov/ and /ej/, e.g., bogȏvi [bɔ ˈgɔ̀ːvi] ‘gods’, sóva [ˈsɔ́ːvɑ] ‘owl’; idȇja [iˈdɛ́ːjɑ] ‘idea’, prȇj [pˈrɛ́ːj] ‘before’. Following the tradition of Slovenian grammars, however, the diacritic representation of accent and vowel quality will not reflex this phonetic neutralization.

Voicing of obstruents is neutralized in word-final position, most consistently when words are uttered in isolation or before a pause, e.g., žlȇb [p] ‘sluice, gutter’ N/A-SG vs. žlȇba [bɑ].

In consonant clusters, the consonants that are paired for voicing (stops, fricatives, affricates, with the exception of v) are neutralized for voicing in favor of the voicing value of the last obstruent in the cluster. For example, gròzd [st] ‘grape’ N/A-SG vs. grózda [zd] ‘grape’ G-SG, izrȇzek [zək] ‘cutlet’ N/A-SG vs. izrȇzka [sk] ‘cutlet’ G-SG; but brȇskve [kv] ‘peach’ G-SG. This variation is normally not reflected in orthography except with respect to the preposition s and the prefix z-, e.g., s kóm ‘with whom’ vs. z Gȏrazdom ‘with Gorazd’, z menój ‘with me’; shodíti ‘begin walking’ vs. zgovoríti se ‘agree upon sth’, zletéti ‘take off’; and some other isolated lexemes (e.g., mȏž ‘man, husband’ → mó̡ški ‘man, male’).

The phoneme /k/ is replaced by /h/ in the preposition k ‘towards’ when it precedes a velar stop /g, k/, and this alternation is reflected in orthography. k máši ‘to Mass’ vs. h kmétu ‘towards the farmer’. In the colloquial speech of Ljubljana and surrounding dialects, the preposition k is always realized as h.

 

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